Foxy Brown (Motown 0648)
I envision a future when blaxploitation soundtracks are considered to be among the greatest symphonic recordings of the late 20th century and the likes of Marvin's Trouble Man and Curtis Mayfield's Superfly are discussed with as much seriousness as Bach's B Minor Mass and Grieg's Peer Gynt.
To me, a lot of these soundtracks achieve a synthesis of classical structure, soul rhythms and vocals, jazz instrumentation, funk inflections, and pop sensibility. Certainly Trouble Man is among the best, an album easily deserving a much greater due than it receives.
Willie Hutch's score for Foxy Brown may not be quite as much of an achievement, but it is still one of the best of the form, a highly unique album that utilizes some of the conventions of what those soundtracks were known for (the rapid-fire hi-hat cymbals and congas, the wah-wah guitars and tight background vocals) while elevating them to a new level.
A lot of people will listen to albums like this and Shaft and only hear the cheesier aspects ("Super bad!") but for me, those things only add to the enjoyment of what is already an album full of real quality.
Sure, there's plenty of punchy horns and whispered voice overs to keep the white black-culture-fetishists happy, but the album is a good ride straight through, on its own terms.
Opening with a car chase theme is never a bad way to start an album didn't George Martin say that? And sure enough, Foxy kicks it off with a two and a half minute chase theme, followed by the great "Theme of Foxy Brown," one of the acknowledged classic blaxploitation singles.
People who have seen the film will be powerless to prevent images of Pam Grier kickin' ass, while people unfamiliar with the film should simply have their asses kicked. A smooth love vibe is settled into early on, with the "Hospital Prelude of Love Theme" segueing into "Give Me Some of that Good Old Love" prototypical slow jams packed with erotic lyrics and a trio of background singers chanting "Gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme."
You can't beat that unless Antonio Fargas sings the bridge (and we're still waiting for the dream album from Antonio, Circus Fargas).
A greater percentage of the album is vocal than in a lot of other soundtracks from the genre, and it really seems like Willie Hutch put his all into writing and performing the music here. He never did get his due beyond small props as an important behind-the-scenes player at Motown, but it's a good thing that Motown is keeping his classics in print (he also did the score to The Mack, and Motown just put out a good best-of devoted to him).
The remainder of the score vacillates from heavy sounding cuts like "Out There" (featuring some of the best reverb ever) to comical cuts like "Foxy Lady," which is a bit more intentionally tongue-in-cheek, while still grooving.
Toss in the requisite message songs "Have You Ever Asked Yourself Why (All About the Money Game)" (a sadly neglected Motown essential classic) and "Whatever You Do (Do It Good)," and you've got a sexy, ass-kickin' album on a mission.
A cool and essential component of the Jack Hill film it was written for, Foxy Brown is a blaxploitation soundtrack classic, and better than that, a classic album regardless of genre.
Motown, the ultimate singles label, hasn't produced all that many great albums, but this is one of them not a perfect album, but an extremely cool one and marvelously good fun all around.
The Pam Grier cover photo doesn't hurt, either I've often said that the larger the Afro depicted on the front cover, the better the album.
Review by Mel Barbell